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Common Fisheries Policy

Volume 934: debated on Thursday 30 June 1977

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on his talks with the EEC and Ministers on the Common Fisheries Policy.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, in view of the dissatisfaction still existing in the fishing industry due to other countries overfishing in British coastal waters, he will make a statement on the latest situation within the industry.


asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what progress he has made towards securing exclusive British fishing limits within the EEC.

I refer the hon. Members and my hon. Friend to the statement made in the House yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland when he reported on the proceedings of the special Fisheries Council held in Luxembourg on 27th June.

Why has the Minister abandoned the industry's demand for a 50-mile exclusive zone, which had support on both sides of the House? Is it not strange that the present proposals for a 12-mile exclusive zone, plus special concessions in the outer zone, are exactly what the Commissioners have been prepared to concede for some time?

To take the second part of the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question first, it is not at all the same thing. The Commission has talked of a vague continuation of the present arrangements for the narrow belt. That is six miles, not 12 miles, and not exclusive. As for the preference, the Commission is talking about a local preference that goes out nowhere near 50 miles, but here and there around the coast for local inshore fishermen, no more than that. Our proposal is a very different matter.

To deal with the first part of the question, the proposals that have been aired in the Council make it clear that the variable belt proposal of up to 50 miles remains as that laid on the table on 4th May last year. We are trying to remove a logjam. As I said last Thursday, if we can get our essential objectives by any other method that preserves those objectives, that is what we intend to do. However, the original proposals lie on the table.

Even if the catch requirements of the British fishing industry are wholly met under the sort of regime that is being discussed, how does the right hon. Gentleman envisage that the concurrent responsibility for conservation that is in the scheme can possibly work? Why concede in any way the present un-diminished right of this country to exercise its own non-discriminatory conservation measures within our waters?

The hon. Gentleman is on to a very important point. From the very beginning, from the Second Reading of the Fishery Limits Bill 1976, I have said over and over again that we must not let go on the issue of preserving our national conservation measures. What took place in Luxembourg until a late hour earlier this week shows exactly what I mean. When it came to the scientific evidence, which was unassailable, that there must be a ban on herring fishing for the rest of the year if the herring stock is to survive, we were virtually in a minority of one. It seems to me that that is an essential element that must be maintained.

The second essential element is that we must have powers of control and enforcement within our own waters. With that I entirely agree. The third point is that we must preserve distant water fishing on a reciprocal basis to the best of our ability. Those three objectives still remain paramount in my mind.

Following our exchanges yesterday, is my right hon. Friend able to enlarge on the statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland? I am certain that he said that there are sister States in the Community that are more than willing to accept the natural justice of our case for a coastal band of up to 50 miles. Is my right hon. Friend as optimistic as that?

Secondly, in the light of what my hon. Friend has said today about the distant water fleet, which is still of great importance to Humberside, as he well knows, does he envisage that if we do not get acceptances in Iceland and elsewhere there could be some form of invasion, so to speak, of mackerel fishing off the southwest peninsula, which we all fear, from the distant water fleet coming into inshore waters?

Without proper planning, that is a danger. The distant water fishing effect on mackerel might be disastrous. In that event, it might be the next species to be endangered. What my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland was saying was absolutely accurate. For whatever reason it may be, be it theological or political, or any reason that we care to put forward, the fact that we said that we were prepared to consider other methods caused a slight thawing of the attitudes of some member countries, but not all. The disappointing factor, which is one that we must always guard against, is that which my right hon. Friend pointed out at the Coun- cil at that time, namely, that we are providing out of our waters—and they are our waters—two-thirds of the fish stock available to member States of the Community. We need a dominant priority in that respect, and member States need to recognise that contribution. I was a little disappointed that that point was not met as strongly as it should have been by other member States.

Was there any discussion about the Icelandic situation? Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate the deep resentment that is felt in fishing ports, especially those which used to fish off Iceland, at the advantageous terms that Iceland has for imports into the Community? Was there any suggestion that those imports from Iceland should be banned until Iceland became reasonable and came to the negotiating table?

The question of Iceland was not immediately relevant to the discussions in the Council. I believe that the hon. Gentleman has a Question later on the Order Paper about the negotiations with Iceland. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and my hon. Friend the Minister of State have consistently made that point to Commissioner Gundelach.

Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that he has abandoned the industry's claim to a 50-mile management zone? This seems to us the only way of protecting resources from greed and rapaciousness. If he is saying that, does he not think that he would have been better advised to have made it absolutely clear in the debate last week?

The Opposition Front Bench must get clear in their minds and tell the House in due course—I do not expect them to do it now—exactly what they mean. Let us see what they have been saying. This is the same Opposition Front Bench, given a resignation here and there, that signed the Treaty of Accession. Depending on which audience they are speaking to and which question is being discussed, they use three possible lines of argument, or three bases. They talk about an exclusive zone, the implication being purely exclusive fishing, a management zone, or an exclusive management zone. The right hon. Gentleman was talking about a management zone. There is a great difference betweeen them. I am talking about an exclusive zone plus a dominant priority plus national conservation measures plus reciprocal rights in deep waters.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that it is our business to ask questions and his, unfortunately, to answer them? If he were to do that it would be a welcome change for all of us. First, will he answer the question that I have asked? Secondly, if, as he constantly claims, we failed to make proper arrangements for fisheries, why did his colleagues not renegotiate the fisheries policy when renegotiation was in process?

I answered the question, but I will answer it again. On the second point, what does the right hon. Gentleman think I am doing now but renegotiating the mess that he and his colleagues got us into?

On the first part of the question, I should make it clear that the objectives remain the same. There was always the fishing industry's idea based on a 50-mile exclusive zone, which meant that literally only United Kingdom fishermen would be allowed to fish in that zone; there was the United Kingdom Government's idea of the variable belt; and there was the third idea of a totally exclusive belt up to 12 miles and then a dominant priority. These are all methods of obtaining the objectives. I cannot believe that there is anything wrong with discussing whether we can break the logjam which, unless we do break it, on the basis of the Treaty of Accession has foreign fishermen fishing up to our beaches in 1982.

Order. I allowed very long answers on these Questions. I realise that the House is deeply interested, but we shall have to move more quickly on other Questions.