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European Community (Fisheries)

Volume 929: debated on Monday 28 March 1977

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11.6 p.m.

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of Community documents COM(76) 660, S/102/77, R/616/77, S/232/77 and R/388/77 and of arrangements that have been made for the control of fishing by third countries and the management of fishery resources in the waters of member states, and endorses the Government's intention to secure any further arrangements under the Common Fisheries Policy necessary to take proper account of the needs of the UK fishing industry.
The House is being asked to consider five documents but before coming to them I wish to make some general remarks.

Our objectives for the revision of the common fisheries policy remain unchanged. We intend to secure for the British fishing industry a prosperous future, and will not allow ourselves to be denied this because our interests run counter to those of some other member States. We are prepared to go to great lengths to achieve success in this matter. The plentiful fish in the waters off the United Kingdom represent a natural advantage which we should be in a position to exploit.

Of course, we are a member of a Community, and we must recognise that other member States also have interests and have fished in these same waters in the past. But equity demands that the revision of the common fisheries policy should take account of the fact that between a half and two-thirds of the fish resources subject to the common fisheries policy come within Britain's limits. Furthermore, our industry is in any case having to face considerable adaptation as distant-water opportunities decline. No other member State faces the present intolerable position of continued total exclusion from Icelandic waters.

Coming, as I do, comparatively recently to fisheries matters, I find the range of interlinking problems extremely challenging. Negotiations are inevitably fast moving. One effect of this is that documents come forward, are amended, and are adopted in a confusing order. This is certainly unsatisfactory for the House. I do not belittle that. It is a serious matter. The right hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) the Chairman of the Commons Scrutiny Committee, has written to me about one of the documents before the House tonight, Document R/616/77, suggesting that more time is necessary to consider it. I have every sympathy with him on that point, although the latest discussion in Brussels has, as I shall show later, thrust that document aside. In general, my predecessor as Minister of State, now my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, as well as Fisheries Ministers, have attempted to keep both the House and the Scrutiny Committee as closely in touch as possible. I may add that this has been difficult at times.

The problems which we face in persuading our partners in the Community to agree to a satisfactory revision of the CFP are large. But we are determined to succeed. The decisions taken so far have not prejudiced our position. The emphasis of discussing is now changing, as negotiations with third countries are beginning to compel the Community to face up to the major decisions on the internal regime itself. The Commission may be making new proposals of some sort after Easter on the CFP, and Agriculture Ministers have said that they will try to reach some solution by the end of June. We are, therefore, in a real sense at the crossroads. May I say in parenthesis that this was an opportune moment to have available the very helpful interim report on the fishing industry by the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee?

My formal task tonight is to describe briefly the documents before the House. The proposals in COM(76)660 represent the Commission's ideas on the interim regime which might have operated in 1977 while the common fisheries policy was being revised. It makes proposals for negotiations with third countries. This part of the document has largely been acted upon, and I shall say more when I come to discuss the third country regulations. The document also sought to establish interim quota arrangements for 1977, based to a large extent upon a rolling forward to the 1976 quotas agreed in the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission. It also made some preliminary proposals about conservation. This document remains on the table. But I see no prospect of agreement on, in particular, the quota proposals. If the Commission produces revised proposals after Easter, there may be a more realistic basis for discussion. We simply cannot accept that no account should be taken of our losses in third country waters and the proportion of fish within the British limits. In general, the United Kingdom has been prepared to consider interim proposals, but only when these do not prejudice our position on the CFP.

Draft Instrument S/102/77 covers proposals for two separate regulations. The first, COM(77)3, concerned interim conservation measures, such as measures for conserving fishery resources, restrictions on the use of certain types of vessel and fishing gear and the taking of certain types of fish of which stocks are in danger of depletion; the other, in COM(77)4, established quotas for fishing by nonmember States.

Action on this draft instrument is substantially complete, although the measures which were adopted by the Council are not in the form shown in this document. I shall look first at conservation. In the absence of agreement on quotas, other forms of controlling fishing naturally assume a great importance. For the United Kingdom certain measures were particularly urgent—notably a ban on herring fishing in the North Sea and control of Norway pout fishing off North-East Scotland which affects the stocks of immature white fish. The group of measures agreed by the Agriculture Council included both these. The scope of the measures was explained to the House by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on 16th February last. The benefit to the United Kingdom fishing industry will be real and considerable.

Almost more important than the individual measures themselves was the preservation, in the period until the CFP has been revised, of the right of member States to take additional conservation measures where the Council cannot agree. Given the problems that might arise over enforcement and acceptance, it is preferable that measures be adopted on a Community basis. But the need at this stage to be able to take necessary, nondiscriminatory steps on a national basis is absolutely vital. Without that right being preserved we would not have agreed to this measure. Without the threat of national action the other member States would not have come as far towards us as they did.

I am sorry to interrupt but this is a matter of great importance. Does that mean that we can extend areas that are closed for pout fishing?

We shall deal with that during the debate since it is important.

The regulation as finally adopted was published in the Official Journal, Volume L.48, of 19th February as Regulation (EEC) No. 350/77. Advance copies of the text were sent to Parliament for information under reference R/388/77.

As far as the proposals in S/102/77 on fishing by non-member countries are concerned, hon. Members will recall that the House was informed, in an Answer to a written parliamentary Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Goole (Dr. Marshall) on 15th December last year, about the autonomous quotas which the Community proposed to establish for certain third country fishing for the first three months of this year. The quotas for the East Europeans were based upon the average level of catch by the countries concerned over the period 1965–74, minus 15 per cent.—which meant a drop of about 60 per cent. compared with 1976 catches in the case of the Soviet Union.

My right hon. Friend the late Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary told the House on 19th January that the Council had the previous day agreed that further measures, including licensing, were necessary to ensure that the East European countries observed these quotas. This agreement by the Council was subsequently embodied in a regulation providing for licensing a specific number of vessels from the USSR, Poland and the German Democratic Republic, and laying down quotas for their fishing in the first three months of 1977. This appeared in the Official Journal, Vol. L.35, on 25th January as Regulation (EEC) No. 194/77. Subsequently the Council agreed to embody the interim quotas for Sweden and Finland, Spain and Portugal in a regulation, No. EEC 373/77, which appeared in the Official Journal, Vol. L53, on 25th February. Copies were sent to Parliament for information under reference S/232/77.

The third document before the House, R/616/77, contains a draft Council regulation providing for a system of catch quotas to apply during 1977 for certain fish stocks in extensive areas of the waters of the member States, including parts of United Kingdom waters. One of the objects of this temporary measure would be to regulate catches by all member States in such a way as to permit the development of the Irish fishing industry, and was proposed after the Irish Government has said that they intended to ban fishing by boats above 110 ft in length. This in itself would have had a serious effect on fishing by certain other member States. Even fishing by the United Kingdom might have been adversely affected, not only by the restriction on a few boats but also because of the diversion of fishing into British waters.

Clearly, this document had considerable implications for our position on the revision of the CFP. The Scrutiny Committee was right in thinking that it deserved very close attention. I am grateful to it for dealing with it so quickly. The Government had several difficulties with the proposals—which were discussed in the Agricultural Council at the end of last week. Obviously I would not want to anticipate in detail any statement which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture may wish to make. However, the British representative pressed for substantial improvements. But no agreement was possible at the Council because our concerns could not be met, and we therefore refused to yield. This document is now no longer under discussion, and I am sure that many hon. Members on both sides of the House will be relieved by that information.

This is certainly a welter of drafts and regulations. Negotiations within the Community have not been easy, and our interests often do not coincide with those of the other member States. Our insistence of our interests has been the major reason for many of the changes. We have taken no more decisions than have been necessary, and have ensured that at each stage our longer-term objectives are safeguarded. Our refusal to compromise over R/616/77 is evidence of this.

Meanwhile, in parallel with the discussion within the Community, negotiations with the third countries concerned have gone ahead. Framework agreements have been signed with the United States, the Faroes and Sweden. They will have to be followed up by detailed negotiations on the actual quantities of fish to be allocated. Hon. Members will be aware that the Faroese Government have recently introduced a group of temporary conservation measures to run until the end of April. Theses measures, I know hit particularly hard at our cod and haddock fisheries, cutting catch by about 50 per cent. on 1976 levels. This, frankly, is unacceptable, and the balance must be corrected in the next stage of the negotiations, for which we are seeking the earliest possible start.

It is interesting to note that the Minister has said that these proposals from the Faroese Government are damaging to our fishing industry. Will he explain why it was that our Minister decided, when he was President of the Council, that, although these proposals were damaging, he should continue to sign the framework agreement? As these proposals were thrown in the day before, at the last minute, would it not have been better if our Minister had said that in these circumstances he would not sign the framework agreement?

The hon. Member will recognise as well as any other hon. Member that there is a grave constitutional problem for any Minister who finds himself occupying the presidency. Constitutionally the President has a responsibility placed upon him which is not simply to look to the national interest of the Government from which he happens to come. This is a difficulty with which many of my senior colleagues have had to wrestle during the period of our presidency.

Returning to the Faroese point, we are determined to see the balance corrected in the next stage of negotiations, for which we are seeking the earliest possible start. This is of great importance to Scotland's fishing interests in particular. The next round of negotiations with Norway is to take place in a few days. A satisfactory agreement with Norway is of first importance to us because Norway is now our most important distant-water fishing ground.

Dealing with Iceland, we still require the Commission to secure an arrangement which would permit our fishing to return. We have left the Community and the Icelanders in no doubt of the importance that we attach to this. Our loss of catch at Iceland has been considerable. In the past two years it has declined from 150,000 tons to zero. I fully appreciate that it is asking too much of all concerned in Britain to expect them to adjust in a so-called communautaire spirit to the requirements of a common fisheries policy unless there is convincing evidence of determined action by the Commission to fight for British interests at Iceland and elsewhere.

It is no little success for the Community that it has persuaded the USSR, Poland and East Germany to open negotiations on the future of their fishing. This is the first negotiation between the Soviet Union and the Community as such. The next round of talks is to take place in mid-April. There will certainly be a lot of hard bargaining. It is of considerable benefit to us that the rest of the Community shares our objectives of achieving with these countries a fair reciprocal balance of fishing.

Before leaving the subject of third country fishing, I should mention that the interim quotas for non-member countries expire at the end of this month. Although progress has been made in negotiations with third countries, a further period of interim arrangements will be necessary to cover the gap until some permanent arrangements can take over. The form of continuing arrangements is under discussion at the moment. It seems likely that agreement will be reached on a rolling-forward of essentially the same arrangements as at present for a further two- to three-month period.

I am most grateful for this opportunity to open this debate today, and genuinely look forward to hearing the views of hon. Members. The big decisions on the common fisheries policy have yet to be taken. We have a right to expect the community to realise how much is at stake for the United Kingdom. It is no part of the purpose or tradition of the Community that the vital interests of member States are to be sacrificed. We do not propose to let it happen over fisheries in the case of Britain.

11.25 p.m.

The whole House will be grateful to the Minister of State for his explanation of the current situation, but there will be some doubt and dismay about how we reached this point. There will be some question as to what would have occurred had the Scrutiny Committee not observed the situation. Secondly, I must make some complaint at the way in which these documents are flung at the House. We have not yet succeeded in evolving a civilised means of handling these procedures.

The Ministry of Agriculture deserves some commendation for the attempt it makes to put before the House clear memoranda of explanation of what the documents are about. Even in this case, however, there were two versions explaining 616/77, one of which was dated 22nd March and the other 25th March. That meant that the latter did not reach the House until it was too late to be of service. It certainly did not arrive before the weekend.

I hope that the Minister will take his own Department to task here and suggest to it that it follows the example of the Ministry of Agriculture and does its best to provide the House with clear memoranda in plain English to show what we are discussing. There should also be more notice than has been given on this occasion, although I appreciate that this may not always be easy.

It is clearly high time that we had a debate on this problem, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give a clear undertaking on that point because the Government's programme is not overcrowded and nothing is standing in the way of such a debate.

One good aspect for my right hon. and hon. Friends and myself of the major document before us is that the proposals in it are dead, as they deserve to be. In so far as the other documents are concerned with conservation measures, I content myself for this evening, at any rate, with saying that they seem to be all right as far as they go. Document 616/77, however, contains one very objectionable provision in that no one member country would be permitted to take unilateral steps of conservation, no matter how necessary. We would find such a measure unacceptable.

Next, we come to catch quotas, which we regard as unrealistic and unenforceable. If I remember correctly, this was a position that the Minister of Agriculture dealt with in answering a Question on 20th January. We believe these catch quotas to be only too easy to fiddle, however. I shall not go into the details, but the numbers put forward in the proposals have no relationship whatever either to what happened in the past or to the geographical position of the waters concerned.

The proposals seem to us to contain a rather cynical attempt to drive a wedge between the United Kingdom and Ireland, and so we dismiss both the catch quota system and the specific numbers put forward in the proposals.

We also find rather strange the fanciful idea that member countries should be expected to put forward "fishing plans by 7th April. I do not think that a proposal of that kind could possibly come from any source save a bureaucracy which had lived for a very long time away from the real world. I hope that future Commission proposals will be more realistic. This proposal followed restrictions on fishing in Faroese waters that brought with them further grave threats of severe consequences for established fishing communities, particularly in Aberdeen and other Scottish fishing ports.

I was speaking earlier to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Taylor) and he stressed the dire consequences that these measures would have for Scotland. I hope that the Government will leave the Commission in no doubt about the strength of feeling in Scotland on this matter.

Many other hon. Members wish to speak in this short debate. I hope that the Government will feel that there should be a full debate on fishing in order to give them a fuller chance than the Minister had tonight to spell out their position rather than reading out the references of various documents. On the understanding that we are likely to have such a debate, I shall say only that the proposals before us, taken together, seem to be so bad, ill-informed and unfair that our regard for the source from which they came can hardly be expected to remain unshaken.

11.32 p.m.

I compliment the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) on the length of his speech—I shall try to follow his good example—and on the absence of the usual hypocrisy that we get from the hon. Members opposite who took us into the Common Market and the common fisheries policy.

We need urgent action by the Government to get the CFP settled by June. I understand that we are to get some catch quotas for 1977, but basically this is to help the Irish.

Norway is the critical nation. Are we moving towards a settlement with Norway? It does not seem so. Are we moving, therefore, towards a situation in which Norway fixes its own quotas and settles with us? What would be the Government's view of that?

We are all fed up with interim measures. We must change to a genuine long-term agreement for the industry, whether on conservation, catch quotas or any other aspect. We get one interim agreement after another, but nothing seems to get settled.

However, I like the tone and temper of our Ministers. I was pleased to hear that they were determined to suceeed, but is there a determination that, if we are blocked, we should declare a 50-mile exclusive economic zone? How far will we go in taking action?

In the earlier defence debate we were talking about fishery protection. Document R/616/77 says:
"Whereas conservation measures that include the allocation by species of a limited catch volume to each Member State will have no effect unless provisions are also laid down for adequate supervision of fishing".
As the months go by, we get more and more EEC statements while our national obligations to safeguard our fishing stocks become more and more apparent.

All other nations face the same situation. They are equipping themselves with the tools for the job. Are we doing the same? Are we now building up a sufficiently tough and determined fisheries protection fleet to look after not merely the 12-mile zone but the vastly increased oceanic waters included in the 200-mile zone? In other words, if a Soviet vessel were to be found within the so-called EEC waters, do we have the determination and the necessary vessels to deal with it, and if that vessel does not go, what do we do?

I am not a pessimist but an optimist about the future of our fishing industry, unlike some others. I was interested to hear Mr. Austen Laing the other evening talking about the future of the industry. He said that the housewife was changing her habits and that it would not be difficult to get enough fish—blue whiting, for example—off the North-West of Scotland to provide a market in the United Kingdom.

It should not be thought that all of us in the fishing industry think in terms of less and less fishing and smaller and smaller catches, even out of ports such as Hull, Grimsby or Fleetwood, and getting pelagic fish from Norway or through third party agreements. There will be, and must be, larger landings in the United Kingdom. I think that catches by our boats in United Kingdom waters can be 3 million tons or more and about 5 million tons or more in the so-called EEC waters with the new 200-mile limit. There is plenty of fish to be caught if our fishery protection fleet can keep out other EEC boats and Communist boats from East Europe. There is no doubt that, given that safeguard of our limits, we can add at least £100 million to our balance of payments surplus.

Iceland has been mentioned. Did the Iceland dispute teach us anything? Can we now lawfully do within the EEC waters what I still maintain the Icelanders unlawfully did to us? That is the nub of the whole question. We were kept out of their waters despite the verdicts of the International Court at the Hague. We must now do the same ourselves.

This is the $64,000 question for the Minister tonight. He is an old Navy Minister and he knows a bit about this subject. Because of the lack of time, I shall not go into details of Island class ships doing 16 knots and unable to catch fast fishing vessels. We need fishery protection vessels faster than those we now possess. We must have faster vessels to get anywhere and to keep our people on shore and at sea informed of what is happening in these waters. We want fast patrol craft, say, 120 feet long and 40 tons or more, with a crew of about 24, and able to do at least 25 knots. I have spoken in the House before about the need for airships. I know that they can do 60 knots, and they can hover and manoeuvre over vessels and thus locate them within our waters.

The key to the future of the fishing industry is adequately to police the waters about our shores and so enable our vessels to catch the millions of tons of fish that are in the waters around our shores.

This is a short debate. May we have short speeches?

11.40 p.m.

I think that everyone in the House welcomes the tough statement from the Minister about the importance of fishing. It is part of the very centre and core of this policy that there should be a 50-mile exclusive limit.

How I agree with him about the documents emanating from Brussels! He described them as a confusing welter of regulations. I do not know what they do to the Belgians, but they terrify me by their presentation, content and volume. There is a great deal that we could discuss in these documents. I hope we shall not always discuss very important Common Market documents at 11 o'clock at night, especially when the Government do not have all that much business to get through. Since it is now 20 minutes to 12 I shall concentrate on one or two matters only.

There is the very important question of negotiations, particularly with Norway, and the difficulty of the Irish position. I have a feeling that, at least with inshore fishing, the Irish and British often have similar interests. I hope that we shall not always find ourselves in opposition to them.

I wish to draw the House's attention to the futility of quotas, because they cannot be enforced. I shall illustrate this by referring to the monitoring problems being encountered in my own constituency.

Document 388 states:
"The Member States shall take the measures necessary to ensure that the percentage of by-catches of demersal species authorized in fishing for industrial purposes as laid down in the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission Recommendation No. 5"—
God knows what fishermen make of that!—
"is reduced to 20 per cent. as from 1st April 1977."
How on earth does one do that? Fishery boats that come into Lerwick which have been engaged in industrial fishing have had their catch reduced to a liquid, and no one can tell what fish it was. I have a letter from the Shetland Fishing Association, which carried out a series of tests, details of which I have sent to the Secretary of State for Scotland. The tests showed that in a recent examination of vessels fishing for pout with 16-millimetre nets 5 tons of prime fish were caught for every ton of pout. The only way to stop this is by continuous boarding of vessels, which we have not the means to do and which would be extremely difficult in any case.

Of course, the Shetlands itself used to undertake industrial fishing, but the fishing association is willing to give it up if it were also given up by other countries. We regard the destruction of young fish by industrial fishing off the Shetlands as something that jeopardises the whole of our fishing. The fishermen also ask that the present closed pout box be extended, or that a new box should be created from 60 degrees N to 61 degrees N and from 1 degree E to 4 degrees E.

That is why I ask the Minister whether it would be possible to take action under another regulation which apparently gives constituent countries power to take action in the interests of conservation, so long as it is not discriminatory. I should be grateful for an answer on that point.

I once more press on the Government, in order to strengthen their hand, that to attempt conservation by quota is futile unless one can enforce it. The pout situation in my constituency bears that out.

I agree with the remarks made about fishery protection. It is true that we need more boats, probably boats of a different type. The Secretary of State told me last Wednesday, in answer to a parliamentary Question, that Nimrods were flying two or three sorties every week. I am told that Nimrods are extremely expensive and not altogether suitable aircraft. They are loaded with expensive equipment, and they should not be taken off defence work. I understand that both Hawker Siddeley and Fokker make aircraft that are more suitable and cheaper for this type of work.

The House should make every effort to strengthen the Government's arm in obtaining a 50-mile limit exclusive to us, so that we can enforce our own conservation. As far as I know, that is the policy of every party in this House. I am not certain about Plaid Cymru Members, but I think it is theirs, too.

The main purpose of these debates is to give the Government more ammunition and show the great sense of solidarity in the country about the need to press for regulations in regard to our fishing which will protect stocks in the future; otherwise, candidly, the industry is finished.

11.45 p.m.

I begin by echoing the remarks made by a number of other right hon. and hon. Members that an hour and a half on an issue as important as this is not good enough, especially since we are discussing not only documents but also the Government's approach to the common fisheries policy. In his introductory statement, my hon. Friend the Minister of State mentioned the helpful report of the Expenditure Committee. Any Member with fishing interests could speak for an hour and a half about that document alone, without going into the wider issues which have been canvassed tonight.

My hon. Friend put his finger on the difficulty with regard to negotiations with third countries, which is that we land ourselves in problematical positions if we happen to hold the Presidency of the Council, and so forth.

The fishermen of Aberdeen are extremely upset about the interim arrangements with regard to fishing off the Faroes. They include a reduction to 15 licensed vessels for the whole of the EEC. The Scottish office of the British Fishing Federation believes that the minimum necessary is 45 for the United Kingdom flet alone if we are to maintain any kind of fishing effort.

But we have no direct control over this situation. It has been decided by a party secondary to us and, when it is complicated by the fact that we are apparently put in a position where we have to set aside our national interests because the President is looking after the interests of the whole Community, it does not make sense to ordinary fishermen and others who have to make their living out of fishing. We have to be very tough about it.

The people of Aberdeen are very appreciative of the statement issued by the Secretary of State for Scotland in which he said that every effort must be made to secure the best possible arrangement and that he condemned the interim arrangements outright. If something like this were done in the EEC, we might get a bit further on.

But events are moving so fast that people are confused not only about the documents but about precisely how they should approach the problem. In a telegram sent last week to the various Ministers concerned, the British Trawlers Federation argued that it would have been better to withdraw completely from the Faroes for six weeks if the Faroese withdrew their fishing effort from EEC waters, especially United Kingdom waters. I am not sure whether that is a good idea. The federation argues that, if the final agreement is anything like as bad as the interim arrangements, it would be happier to come out of Faroese waters entirely and see that the Faroese got no fishing effort at all in EEC waters. How far has that been discussed by the Government? I suspect that we shall not get an answer tonight. These, however, are questions which are being asked, and we need answers to them.

Those of us who represent fishing constituencies try as far as possible to keep up to date with what is happening. It is difficult enough when documents are out of date and are withdrawn before we come to discuss them, but we do not know where we are going in relation to the common fisheries policy and in terms of catch.

In paragraph 9 of its report, the Expenditure Committee says quite bluntly that, in its view, catch quotas have been completely discredited as the sole means of husbanding fishery resources and that only a licensing system which will limit effort can protect sadly depleted stocks.

That brings me to the point I wanted to make in any event. What precisely are we doing about fishery protection vessels? The report goes into five or six paragraphs of discussion about what kind of vessels we need. It even asks whether the Ministry of Defence is the right body to do fishery protection and whether we ought not to be working towards a civilian fleet. These are things which ought to be discussed. I am worried that time is drifting on.

We get answers in good faith that the Nimrods and the vessels available are adequate for the purpose. At paragraph 30, however, the Under Secretary of State for Defence for the Royal Navy said:
"In the event that we find the Island class wanting in speed we shall certainly look at another design".
How long shall we wait before my hon. Friend decides that the Island class is not fast enough? Once he has made that decision, how far will he go for a design? Some people imagine that in order to design a ship all one has to do is draw a few lines on paper. Before one begins to design it, however, one has to decide the specification of the vessel one wants. One must ask "How big will it be and what size? How fast will it go? How many men will it carry? Will it require helicopter facilities? "All these decisions are urgently required, and they ought to be made now.

I happen to know that a shipyard in my own constituency—Hall Russell—is designing a new vessel. I am not sure whether it has been commissioned by the Ministry of Defence, but it is working on it. It is not good enough simply to commission a design. We cannot suddenly build vessels even when we have a design. We need urgent action on this.

Although I appreciate what my hon. Friends have done with regard to negotiations, the fact that they have, even if only by a matter of weeks, been willing to take unilateral action shows that they at least have some appreciation of the situation and that we are not bogged down in the whole misma of different policies within the EEC. I shall not go over past ground.

It has been said that something was chucked in at 24 hours' notice with regard to the Faroes. This has been the history of our discussions on the common fisheries policy since before we went into the Market. We must do something about it.

I hope that we shall get time to have a proper fisheries debate, because I should like to have raised the purely constituency question of fish meal production and an application for a grant from a firm in my constituency which was turned down. I should like to have gone into that in great detail and argued the case, but in deference to other hon. Members who have fishing constituencies I shall go no further. If the Government take firm action, they will have support in all quarters of the House and I shall be the first to praise them for acting swiftly and well.

11.54 p.m.

I am glad that reference has been made to the interim report of the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee of the Expenditure Committee. We certainly raised a number of questions which we hope to answer in the full report of the Committee towards the end of this year.

Where an all-party Committee, consisting of Labour, Conservative and Scottish Nationalist Members, comes down firmly in favour of a licensing system, when it points out that a quota system is unenforceable and when it says quite definitely that the Government of this country must be prepared to take unilateral action to conserve breeding stocks, that gives the Government something more than merely encouragement. It means that no one can hone that by delaying decisions there might be a change of Government and a different policy. It means that this is a national policy rather than a temporary policy of the present Government. It is very important that that should be realised.

We have seen one species of fish after another slaughtered until it could totally disappear. The next candidate for annihilation is the mackerel, because as one fish stock after another has been so overfished that the breeding stock has been devastated increased effort has been focused on what remains. I am sure that sooner or later the EEC will have to take a policy decision, which is nowhere evident in the documents, that fishing for human consumption must take priority over fishing for industrial purposes and fish meal. Any system of temporary quotas that dodges that question is not acceptable.

The quantum of fishing for industrial purposes is now such a large proportion of the total available fish stocks that not to face this question means that the fishing fleets geared to fishing for human consumption will go bankrupt. It is as simple as that. Fishing for human consumption is an industry that could easily become uncreditworthy because of proposals of this kind. Even if the Government are determined not to accept them, a condition of financial instability could be created for the industry so that bank managers are frightened.

Therefore, we need the firmest declarations by the Government that certain proposals will not be acceptable. For instance, the best technical assessment for mackerel is a total allowable catch of 184,000 tonnes. When it is proposed that the British catch should be slashed from 103,000 tonnes a year to 40,000 and that the Irish catch should be substantially increased, that is condemning a large part of our fleet unnecessarily to neither more nor less than bankruptcy.

If the proposal were accepted, which it cannot be, it must be a purely temporary phase. We must not have temporary phases which bring bankruptcy to a large proportion of the industry which will subsequently be needed once we have a rational and acceptable policy. There is a great danger in interim schemes. If necessary, we must have a unilateral policy before there is a policy with which we can live. What we cannot have is an interim policy which we are asked to accept, although it is totally unreasonable, as a preliminary to a policy with which we can live.

There is another reason. Part of the negotiating posture for the long-term policy will be the actual catches by countries during a certain period—the historic catch. We do not know what periods will be taken as the base. Therefore, if we were to agree to the sort of nonsense proposed in these Commission documents we could find that that severely prejudices the long-term policy that emerges.

Those are the dangers against which we must prepare ourselves by a willingness to take unilateral action. The history of the past five years shows that a reasonable policy may of necessity be the child of a willingness to take unilateral action. It was the Icelandic willingness to take unilateral action that precipitated conservation measures elsewhere that are now seen to be vital. The 200-mile limit that started with Peru evoked a scream throughout the world, yet how right the Peruvians were. They prevented a fishing stock from being annihilated. That is the lesson we have learnt. We must hope that it is not too late. But if the negotiating machinery in the Community does not work fast enough to preserve breeding stocks from being endangered or annihilated, the case for unilateral action is undeniable.

Order. We have 25 minutes left for the debate. Can we have five five-minute speeches?

12 midnight.

The first thing one should do on this occasion is congratulate the Government on the progress made in the last few months. It is a welcome change. If we reflected on the Floor of the House the speeches which have been made upstairs in Committee, my right hon. Friends might have had some difficulty in getting through the doors of the Chamber because of all the kind things said about them on that occasion. It is, therefore, important that in the House itself, while we have criticisms of the Government, proper regard should be paid to the progress made so far. Perhaps it is rather like the schoolboy's report—"Progress is better, but there is still room for improvement."

In this story of the fishing industry there has been a welcome change of attitude in the last few months. One wants to see it taken further, and taken further against the background of unilateral action by the Government sticking in their heels in the negotiations. One can only wish that it had been done in the more distant past as it has been done done in the recent past, and one hopes now that the Government will stick their heels in more in order to achieve the legitimate claims of the British fishing industry.

My hon. Friend the Minister said that the Government hoped to have the common fisheries policy by the end of June. I hope so too. But he did not say which June. Could it be 1981, or 1991? He apologised for the plethora of documents from Government Departments and Brussels. This is a simple sign of the Commission's own panic and failure to pay attention to what was being said in this country about the need for a proper fisheries policy before the limits were pushed out to 200 miles. There has been a lack of awareness of the nature of the problem, and it is that which is causing the trouble.

In this regard the Government cannot be held to be completely innocent, because they have been there making their representations and it has all resulted in documents being produced and then withdrawn and in the ridiculous situation with the French and the Irish scooping the pool. Why were the Irish given favourable treatment. It was because they said that they would introduce regulations which discriminated in favour of their own people. If that sort of action is needed to get favourable consideration, we must adopt it. We could do what the Irish did on boat size. They could do it because no one else had that boat size. Perhaps we could do it on size of funnels, propellors or something else and still not thereby be regarded as discriminating nationally.

We see in Document R/388/77 the nonsense of the way in which the Commission is looking at this subject. Article 7 says:
"Member States shall take all necessary steps to ensure compliance with the provisions of this Regulation within the maritime waters under their sovereignty or jurisdiction, and covered by Community rules on fisheries.
The checks carried out by the Member States shall be reported at regular intervals to the Commission."
It does not state the nature of the checks to be carried out or what is a "regular interval". More important, most of what we have all been talking about involves a great deal of expense in building ships and aircraft and in having proper policing and so on.

If there were a real Community spirit, and if all the partners trusted one another, we should agree to English inspectors in France, Danish inspectors in Scotland and so on. We should not need all this expense. We should have people honourably going round and looking at the catches as they were landed. They would look at the size of the nets on board ships as they went out and as they came back. They would make sure that the licence number was put up, they would check the number of days spent at sea and so on. Basically, what we are saying is that we cannot trust one another. We cannot find a cheap and satisfactory method of policing our own system within Community waters. If we cannot do that, we shall never have a common fisheries policy.

On the question of third party interest, have the Government washed their hands of Iceland or shall we at some time in the future say that the Icelanders export a lot to the Community and, therefore, it might be time for some of their ports of entry to be knocked off until we get justice for our deep-sea fleet?

12.6 a.m.

The Minister of State's critical and lambent analysis of the documents was evidently much to the taste of the House. I thought that it was unreasonable of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton) to make a complaint against the Government about the mass of documents that we have before us—some in date, some partly in date and some partly out of date.

The documentation of the Community is incompatible with control by this House. It is intended to be incompatible. The legislative system of the Community is inherently incompatible with the legislative powers and sovereignty of this House, and it is on the ground that they desired exactly that to happen that the occupants of the Opposition Front Bench commended and supported British membership of the Community. Therefore, it does not lie in their mouths now to complain when they find that an entirely different legislative and political system prevails in the Community of which they wanted this country to be a province.

The transition from three-mile limits to 200-mile limits would in any circumstances have imposed great problems— indeed, great hardships—upon the British fishing industry, probably as much as upon any fishing industry in the world, but this hardship and these problems have been greatly exacerbated by the fact that we face them not as other countries do, as an independent autonomous nation, but as a nation that is on its way to becoming a province of a new-fangled State.

We heard the Minister of State say that the Government are determined to succeed—those were his words, and they have been quoted—in getting what we want for our fishing industry in these negotiations. Certainly we can succeed if we are determined to do so, because we have the whip hand in the Community. It is the Community, having a trading surplus with us, that needs to trade with us. It is the Community that has a vested interest in keeping us imprisoned within its dear food area and in preventing us from buying food on favourable terms in the markets of the world.

In this area of fishing, juridically we have the ownership of and sovereignty—that is a word we are glad to see the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food using more and more frequently—over waters that contain the majority of the total fish resources attributable to the EEC. Of course we can have what we want, but we can have what we want only by insisting upon exercising that juridical power to the breaking point.

We say—and we say rightly—that quotas are unacceptable. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, Central (Mr. McNamara) made a trenchant point when he indicated that if this was a new State, a new organisation, as it purported to be, quotas would be workable, as they are workable inside an individual State. But everyone recognises—it has been recognised here tonight—that quotas are unacceptable because we have to police our own waters, under our own law and with our own, at present, inadequate forces.

The requirements of the British fishing industry and the methods by which they have to be obtained run counter to the inherent principle of the Community itself, because they are a denial of that pooling of resources in a new institution and organisation which is the very essence of the purpose of the State.

A corner of this became evident tonight in what the Minister had to admit about the President's ambiguous position in the Community organisation, but when he referred to his expectation that the Community and the negotiators of the Community would fight for British interests one could almost hear the cats laughing. We know perfectly well that there is only one country that will fight for British interests, and that is Britain itself.

We are starting to do so now when we see an interest, and an essentially maritime interest, threatened as a consequence of our membership of the Community. This is one of the things that will break British membership of the Community. I rejoiced to hear the concluding words of the right hon. Member for Yeovil, who is beginning to get the message, and I hope that the occupants of the Opposition Benches will get that message ever louder as the weeks go by. Here, in the recognition of the only way in which our legitimate national interests can be preserved, we see the beginning of the break-up of something of which we ought never to have become a part.

12.12 a.m.

I thank the Minister for the tone of his speech. It was encouraging. He can be assured of support in the House if he continues on that line.

Some of us have the advantage of having debated these matters regularly in Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments. It is unfortunate that some Members who are deeply interested in this subject do not have the opportunity to speak in Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, since those debates have to finish before everyone wishing to speak can participate. I repeat a plea which I have made in Statutory Instruments Committees for maps to be supplied with the documents on complicated matters. This would greatly help hon. Members.

Uninformed discussion sometimes takes place on EEC proposals because they receive unauthenticated publicity. At the end of last week there were reports about the quantity of fish to be caught off the West Coast of Britain. According to the newspaper reports, even the Minister reacted fairly violently. I understand that some of the reports were not based on official information from the Community.

Reports are often based on leaks. If there are to be leaks, why not make them official and accurate so that we can debate the real facts rather than misinformation? Certain sections of the industry go to other countries to find out what is happening on fishing policy in the EEC. The best source of information about FEOGA grants is Dublin, not London or Edinburgh.

Figures must be agreed for what can be caught in particular areas. Overall quotas, or total allowable catches, must be calculated. I hope that, having got a total overall figure, we shall then move to the use of licences to make the system effective.

If we are to have quotas, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) that we must know on what period the quotas are based. For example, a lot of the French fishing effort has been diverted over the past five years into waters which we should regard as British waters, because the French have fished out their waters. If we took it back over a longer period, we should find that their entitlement, as they call it, would be very much less.

Finally, I come to the matter of the Faroes. I shall not go into detail, but I wish to support what was said by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes)—that what is proposed by the Faroese would be the death of the Aberdeen middle-distance fishing industry. I remind the House, including Scottish National Party Members, that the Grampian Region is the major fishing area of Scotland. Half our fish are landed in the Grampian Region, and one-third of the fish landed there are caught in non-EEC waters.

Therefore, it is important to us that we are able to fish in waters such as the Faroes, the Norwegian banks and so on. I make now the same point as I made in questions on the Minister's statement a week or so ago. For goodness' sake, in the negotiations with the Farocse, if they want to fish in our waters, let us be equally tough with them as they are with us. Otherwise, we shall see the death of this important section of our fishing industry.

12.16 a.m.

Although week after week we have asked the Leader of the House—

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

know that you have a difficult task in selecting hon. Members to speak, but from this side of the House tonight you have chosen a Liberal, you have chosen an Ulster Unionist, and now you have chosen a Scottish National Party Member. This is very difficult for Conservative Back Benchers, who seem to have no chance although we represent far more members of the public than do the hon. Members whom you have chosen.

Although I have week after week asked the Leader of the House for time to debate the fishing industy, here we are again in the ludicrous position of having to debate such an important subject in only very limited time. I assure the hon. Member for North Fylde (Mr. Clegg) that the Scottish fishing industry is equal in size to the English fishing industry, and obviously the subject is 10 times more important to a Scot than it is to an English Member.

I refer first to the sheer inability of the Commission to pay attention to the problems of the fishing industry. I instance, for example, the mess it made of the negotiations with Iceland. Second, there is the hash it is making of the negotiations with the Faroese. It is ludicrous that the best it can be offered is licences for 15 boats from all EEC countries.

The mess which is being made of negotiating with Norway is a tragedy. I commend to both Front Benches the report of the front page of the Fishing News this week, which tells us that the Norwegians themselves are frustrated at the situation. They cannot get negotiation with Britain, anxious though they themselves are. If the EEC cannot do a better job, it is time for us to take unilateral action. Let us carry out negotiations by ourselves and then tell the Commission that we have done so.

The EEC is unable to carry forward a fishing policy. One need only refer to what has happened over the position of the Norway pout box. Why did it go to 60 degrees North instead of 61 degrees? It is interesting to note that that last degree between 60 and 61 contains some of the best fishing grounds in the North Sea. It is interesting also to note that the Whalsay experiment carried out by boats from Whalsay in Shetland, when fishing in that particular area, found some of the finest fish in the North Sea, fish which is being carried away to Denmark to be ground into fish meal.

Most important of all, I want to refer to the herring industry, which is now in a dreadful position. The factories of Scotland are being starved of fish while the Danes go ahead scooping up first-quality herring and taking it to be ground into fish meal. It is ludicrous that some of our factories are operating at less than 60 per cent. capacity, and there is even talk now of bringing herring from Canada, while within 50 miles of the Scottish coast swim some 90 per cent. of all the herring in the North Sea. For historic reasons our fishermen are given a useless quota of about 7 per cent. while the Danes receive a quota of 34 per cent. to grind into fish meal.

Does the hon. Member accept that more than 50 per cent. of the fish taken out of the North Sea has been taken out by non-EEC countries?

I do not accept that. The Norwegians catch a lot of fish in our waters, but the Danes are the main culprits. The most important thing that the Minister can do in Brussels is to take the Danish industrial fishermen off the sea. We must ensure that Danish fishermen use nets with mesh that are the same size as used by our men so that small fish can get away and be allowed to spawn and grow. It is important that the funds available in Brussels should be used to compensate owners of the fish meal factories in Denmark.

I do not wish to see the Danish fishing fleets cut down and their boats allowed to go out of use, but we must make them fish for human consumption. If they do that, no fish will be available for grinding into fish meal. The Minister never had a better opportunity to do that than now, because there are vast stocks of skimmed milk powder in the EEC that can be used as a direct substitute for fish meal. Surely we can reach an agreement for one year to stop industrial fishing, to provide compensation to the fish meal factories for their losses and to use the skimmed milk powder. That would kill two birds with one stone.

If we need to do so, we must declare unilaterally a 50-mile conservation zone in which fishermen can conserve stocks, if we do not do that, there will be no stocks of fish in the North Sea for anyone—not for ourselves or for our EEC partners. Our fishermen have proved that they can abide by quotas. I want to tell the House that in the last four weeks the haddock fishermen have limited themselves to 40 boxes per man per week to save stocks. They are the only fishermen in the EEC who have shown themselves prepared to abide by quotas. The Minister must hammer that home to our EEC partners. It is important to look after our men first, last and all the time. If the present Government do not do so, the SNP will do it, once we get independence for Scotland.

12.23 a.m.

I shall take up a point made by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). On many occasions he has said that we surrendered our sovereignty and we are therefore in the present situation. I accept my own share of responsibility for entering the Common Market because I was one of the Whips who saw that the legislation for our entry passed through the House. I do not resile from that.

Until recently, the fishing industry has not been treated as a major British interest in the Common Market. When we entered the Community I was told that we would defend our major British industries. Iceland exports 52 per cent. of its goods to the Common Market. That could be stopped for as long as Iceland keeps us out of its waters.

I shall be brief about my own constituency. We are in a state of complete uncertainty. Until we get a better common fisheries policy, fishing vessel owners will not know what sort of keels to put down and fishermen will not know what their parameters are and where and how they can fish. There is urgency in this matter. We must know. I think that June was the proposed date. We must know so that we can all make our own proper arrangements and look after the employment of our fishermen.

In conclusion, I beg the Government to treat this matter as a major British interest. It will be here long after the oil has gone.

12.25 a.m.

I shall be very brief. I am very concerned about the waters all around the coast, particularly along the South Coast, which faces the Common Market so closely. There is a fear of the EEC in the hearts and minds of fishermen. That has come out in the debate tonight. There is far too much worry about their future. It was only from the reply to a recent parliamentary Question which arose from a rumour on the South Coast about Brussels producing a calculated redundancy programme for fishermen that one was able to allay the fears.

I ask the Minister of State to bear in mind that this is a matter not just of quantitative sums but of a qualitative fear. It looks to many fishermen as if harmonisation is equality without liberty or fraternity.

The quota system simply does not work. Thanks to the Minister of State, I have had the opportunity of going aboard Belgian trawlers and having a look at the way in which the quota system operates. It does not work. We must have a 50-mile limit, and quickly. I commend to the Minister the urgency that has been mentioned tonight. We have a great distance to make up and a very limited time in which to make it up.

Finally, I am very disturbed by the way in which the EEC Commission itself has shown a complete lack of realism in understanding this industry. I am wondering how much the same reality is missing in regard to other industries that we do not debate often in the House.

The members of the Commission should examine their hearts and minds to see what they are doing. They should take a lead from our industry, in which we really know what we are talking about.

12.28 a.m.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. E. S. ]]]]HS_COL-218]]]] Bishop)

I make no apology for having only a few minutes in which to reply to the debate. I am sure the House will understand that I am not able to deal with all the points that have been raised. I thought it very important that as many right hon. and hon. Members as possible should have the chance of taking part in the debate.

I share some of the misgivings that were voiced by the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Peyton.) The situation is that some of us have had to bear the heat of the day over many months, and probably for years, when the House has been demanding action from the Government. Indeed action is coming following 200-mile limits and the passing of our Fishery Limits Act at the end of last year. A great deal of activity is taking place in Brussels. Sometimes some of the documents are overtaken by events and by the pressure which has been exerted not only by Her Majesty's Government but by the industry, the trade unions and, indeed, hon Members who are particularly concerned about the future of the fishing industry.

In some ways this is to be welcomed. I am very pleased albeit the debate has been very short, that the House has had an apportunity of expressing a point a view so soon after the discussions held in Brussels over the weekend, I am sorry that my right hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary are not present. They are still negotiating in Brussels. However, I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and the Secretary of State for Scotland have looked in. We have also been supported by the interest of the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Brown).

This has been a useful debate. In the very short time that is available I should like to deal with some of the points that have been raised. Our position on the common fisheries policy, the definitive fishery regime, and on the 50-mile limit and limits generally is still as was explained in the statement by hon right hon. Friend the then Minister of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs on 4th May of last year. That is still the objective, to seek a limit which goes at least to 50 miles. Events since then have moved apace. Recently there has been much more action, especially over the 200-mile limit, licensing of vessels, protection of stocks and other conservation measures.

The situation in the Faroes is difficult. In spite of rapid progress in concluding a framework agreement, relations suffered a setback when the Faroese introduced conservation measures last week which will severely limit United Kingdom catches of cod and haddock in April. The effects of these measures, if continued, will have to be taken into account in negotiations on the allocations of quantities of fish for this year which will begin shortly. I am opening the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Conference tomorrow. The Government have made their position clear.

The hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) will recognise the problem attaching to the Presidency. Had we not signed the framework agreement, we would not necessarily have achieved the effects we wanted. It could have led to a vicious circle of retaliation and perhaps exclusion from Faroese waters. The United Kingdom has made its position clear. We are still pressing some of the points.

The Commission published a document on 3rd December dealing with interim quotas, and at the Council of Ministers on 13th December the United Kingdom made it clear that the interim proposals were unacceptable. While we recognise that the proposals are a genuine attempt to conserve stocks, they do not take adequate account of the United Kingdom's interests, our contribution to resources and our dependence on our coastal resources as well a our losses in the distant waters.

Some people say that quotas are unenforceable and urge that we should reject Documents 616 and 660 containing the quota proposals. We do not reject quotas, because we consider them to be basically necessary. But they have to be based on scientific evidence about available stocks of fish.

It is important, too, to have proper enforcement. We have heard comments about the adequacy of fishery protection. There is no reason to suppose that the resources devoted to fishery protection are inadequate. Nimrod, which has been referred to, is a useful aerial vehicle. I have been on one during the cod war and was in the area of Icelandic waters for eight hours or so. We shall be studying the recommendations and views of the Trade and Industry Sub-Committee which has expressed some misgivings on this matter. We are ready to consider changes in the enforcement arrangements if experience shows them to be necessary.

I turn to the negotiations in Brussels this weekend, especially in relation to the Irish situation. I pay tribute to the speed with which the Scrutiny Committee was able to examine Document R/616/77. Its labour was not in vain, because it is important that the issues involved should be considered by the House. This proposal emerged in response to the desire of the Irish Government to restrict access for large vessels around the Irish coast. I respect the importance which the Irish Government attach to this problem, and the Government were happy to seek a Community solution. But I regret that the extent of discussion of a short-term solution to a limited problem should have diverted Community discussion from the real issue, namely, the future of the common fisheries policy. This is the context in which we must look at the situation.

The scope of the Commission's proposals was too wide. The Irish Government were interested in a measure to cover large ships close to their shores, while the Commission proposed a comprehensive system of quotas over a vast area of the Atlantic extending from the Shetlands to Cornwall and covering the English Channel to Dover. Such a solution was not only a huge and complex sledgehammer to crack a very small nut; it would also have completely prejudiced the outcome of future discussions on the CFP. The quotas which it embodied were inadequate and would have afforded special treatment to Ireland in a zone of sea of which United Kingdom waters are the largest element.

In view of the importance to our own industry, that was an important feature. There have been several weeks of intense negotiations within the Community on this important matter. After these, negotiations the United Kingdom was obliged to block agreement on this item in the Council. The Commission and the other member States now have to consider what further steps are required.

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3 ( Exempted Business).

Question agreed to.


That this House takes note of Community documents COM(76) 660, S/102/77, R/616/77, S/232/77 and R/388/77 and of arrangements that have been made for the control of fishing by third countries and the management of fishery resources in the waters of member states, and endorses the Government's intention to secure any further arrangements under the Common Fisheries Policy necessary to take proper account of the needs of the UK fishing industry.