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Fishery Limits (Emergency Provisions)

Volume 931: debated on Wednesday 11 May 1977

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4.5 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make further provision for the protection of fish stocks within fifty miles of the coast of the United Kingdom.
By seeking leave to introduce this Bill, I seek the clear and visible support of this House for a 50-mile British fishery limit within the EEC.

Less than a year ago Parliament passed the Fishery Limits Act, which set a 200-mile limit around Britain's coasts, with great and unusual urgency. The emergency leading to that Act has not ended and will not end until the job is completed, and the job cannot be completed unless there is some real safeguarding of British interests in waters within those 200 miles.

Our real fishery limits, so far as our neighbours in the EEC are concerned—they represent most of our neighbours with fishing fleets—are not 200 miles at all. Our real fishing limits in practice are only 12 miles, and in some cases, including my own constituency, only six miles. In 1982, unless a new common fisheries policy is negotiated, there will be no limits at all. In the absence of any new provision, the right would exist to fish right up to our beaches, but even the limits of 12 miles and six miles, which are all that we have now, are totally inadequate.

The common fisheries policy was concocted on the eve of British and Irish entry of the EEC to suit the needs of the then member countries, which had for the most part fished out the resources in their own waters and would like to deploy their catching fleet in our waters. Britain has the biggest food fish market of any of the EEC countries. It has the biggest fishing fleet of any of the EEC countries. It has many more communities dependent on fishing than have other countries in the EEC, and whether one considers the small inshore fishing ports of a constituency like mine or the large fishing ports of the deep sea industry on the Humber Estuary, at Fleetwood and elsewhere, one sees communities with a heavy degree of dependence on the fishing industry. Perhaps most important, more than half of the EEC's total fish stocks are within the 200 miles of waters which surround the coasts of the United Kingdom.

I deplore, of course, the fact that the common fisheries policy was ever agreed to in the first place and was not either the subject of a stronger stand at the time or made a part of renegotiation, as I believe it should have been. I say to those hon. Members who share my strong feelings on the subject that all that has all happened now. The original negotiations have passed, the renegotiations have passed and events have overtaken us, and 200-mile limits of the kind now in existence were scarcely thought of then.

We must work together—I hope that all hon. Members will agree with this—to secure a decent settlement for Britain, even at this admittedly very late hour.

The member countries of the EEC do not recognise that we mean business in getting a realistic fisheries policy. That is why the House must act. The fishing industry, after all, has not been extreme in its demands for what exclusive British control should extend to. The general cry for a long time was for 100 miles, but now a limit of only 50 miles is being sought. Hon. Members who do not know the fishing industry well should take something of the measure of the frustration which is felt.

I should like to quote from a statement made by the British Fishing Federation and quoted recently in the Trawling Times:
"It's the indignity of it that hurts most. Fishermen are proud people and one can understand their frustration when, through the failure of the EEC to sort out fisheries problems and no fault of their own, they see foreigners walking off with their pockets stuffed full of our money, while our own vessels head for the scrapyard and some of the world's finest fishermen are made idle. The fact that, with the EEC's blessing, the Icelanders are thumbing their nose at us makes it even harder to bear. Lunacy is the only word to describe it. Talk about food from our own resources! As far as fish are concerned, they're being carved up for the benefit of the rest of the EEC, while we fork out badly-needed sterling to buy from third countries."
My Bill is an emergency Bill. I shall explain why. Fish is a superb protein source that is self-sustaining. Fish stocks replace themselves, but they must be given a chance to do so. They have no chance of being self-sustaining if there is no adequate conservation. There is no chance of adequate conservation at present.

The conservation record of many EEC countries is poor. That is why they want to be in our waters. They have few fish in their own waters. The present activities of some EEC countries give every reason to fear for the future. If hon. Members do not know what is going on off Shetland they should consult my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) and The Shetland Times. The situation there is apparent to all who know what can happen when a massive industrial fishing effort is allowed to continue.

I quote from an article in The ShetlandTime:
"Foreign fishing fleets are robbing the Shetland fishing grounds of stock of haddock and whiting—and doing it quite legally. That is the evidence brought to light by an experiment carried out this week by the Whalsay boat 'Langdale'
The 'Langdale' made a two hour tow off Balta on Tuesday night, on the fishing grounds where the foreign industrial boats are working at present, and took about six tons of fish. Of the catch, about one ton was pout, and most of the rest mature haddock and whiting and other species suitable for human consumption.
The 'Langdale' was using a 16 mm net, the same as that used by foreign boats. The only check on what these boats catch is a by-catch limit of 10 per cent. of under-sized haddock and whiting."
A spokesman for the Shetland Fishermen's Association said:
"When a boat returns to port after nine or 10 days the catch is like soup and there is no way of saying what proportion of haddock or whiting, or anything else, has gone to make up the catch.
The only thing that can eliminate this kind of thing is an exclusive 50 mile limit for Britain, so that we can work out our own plan of conservation."
The EEC's own ideas about conservation show that it has no grasp of the situation. It puts forward proposals for catch quotas that every fisherman knows are impossible to enforce. Catch quotas have been shown to be ineffective. Some EEC member nations have demonstrated how easy it is to avoid them.

Conservation needs national enforcement. It is likely to work effectively only if it is being enforced by British authorities on British vessels landing fish in British ports. Only then can the catch be tested. That is one of the greatest difficulties. British fishermen will accept conservation if they can see that it is effective and if they do not have to stand by and watch other people defying it.

An emergency exists in another sense. We have a crisis in our own fishing industry. Many vessels are tied up. We cannot accept a situation in which our own distant-water and inshore vessels are fighting it out over a mere 12 or six miles of coastal waters. It is reasonable to ask for a 50-mile limit. We should still be making a massive contribution to the EEC "pond" with the rest of our 200 miles. We could meet the needs of our own industry within the 50-mile zone, even allowing for the contraction of distant-water fishing. The other EEC nations would still have access to the outer 150 miles.

The Bill would amend section 2 of the Fishery Limits Act 1976 so that full control of access to the 50-mile zone is assumed by the British Government. Access within 50 miles by vessels of EEC States would be restricted in the same way as that by vessels of other countries into the whole 200-mile zone. If passed, the Bill would be annually renewable until such time as the EEC incorporates provisions of this nature into a new common fisheries policy. Of course, legal clashes may well arise, just as they have over Ireland. We must be prepared to face that.

The industry supports the Bill. It also has the support of local authorities and hon. Members of all parties. I see no reason why, if the stalemate continues, the Government should not give time for the Bill. Even the passing of this preliminary stage today would be a clear indication that the House is serious about the future of fish stocks and our fishing industry. I hope that the Bill will meet the approval of the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. J. Grimond, Mr. James Johnson., Mr. Walter Clegg, Mr. Hamish Watt, Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith, Mr. Austin Mitchell, Mr. Douglas Henderson and Mr. Russell Johnston.