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Fishing Limits

Volume 934: debated on Thursday 30 June 1977

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asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will press for a time limit to negotiations for an equitable Internal Fisheries Régime within the Exclusive Economic Zone.

I fully accept the urgency, but I doubt whether there would be advantage in pressing for a time limit.

In view of the growing and intense pressures on the British fishing industry, is not there a case for setting a time limit? In this context, will the right hon. Gentleman say whether the British Government support the phasing out of historic right zones in the six to 12-mile limit, in view of their very firm commitment to maintaining an exclusive 12-mile limit in the negotiations?

It is our policy that the historic rights should be phased out— and, incidentally not necessarily only in our own narrow waters but in those of other countries, where some of our fishermen also do their fishing.

As to the hon. Gentleman's first question, the difficulty seems to me to be this: if any time limit is set, whether it be 1st August or 1st September, what happens when it is reached? We are trying to meet a situation in which a Council of nine members has to agree unanimously to something, and that is a very difficult proposition.

Is it not a fact that when the Tory Government dragged an unwilling Britain into the Common Market they were accepting a theme of free movement of capital and labour, which presumably means free movement of fishes and fishing boats from whichever country in the Community they come? Is not the logical answer—in line with the policy of the Tribune Group— to declare that the Common Market is an unmitigated disaster and to get Britain out? That must be the campaign not only of us but of my right hon. Friend.

I can only answer for my departmental duties as they are at present, and my departmental duties do not include my taking Britain out of the Common Market single handed. I must therefore deal with what I have, and what I have is what was left to us by Conservative Members. That means doing the best I can in extremely difficult circumstances.

With regard to the phasing out of historic rights within the 12-mile limit, will the right hon. Gentleman and the Government pay particular attention to the peculiar situation prevailing in the waters around Ulster, so as to ensure that the same rights are enjoyed by all United Kingdom fishermen?